Volume 93, Issue 87

Wednesday, March 15, 2000


Ninth Gate leads to intrigue, mystery

ArtLab exhibit pauses to ponder technology

Festival showcases film talent

N'Dour comes through with sublime new effort

Stunning effects make Mission

Ninth Gate leads to intrigue, mystery

Gazette file photo
SOCIAL STIGMAS FORCED THE S-CLUB 7 FAN CLUB TO MEET IN SECRECY. Actually, this is a shot from Roman Polanski's new winner, The Ninth Gate. Restraining order just out of picture.

By Adrian Torrington
Gazette Writer

Exiled auteur Roman Polanski has recently returned with The Ninth Gate.

In a nuanced performance as Dean Corso, this film stars Johnny Depp – a greedy, chain-smoking book dealer who gets lost within a maze of temptation. Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) is a creepy New York City magnate who hires Corso to track down two copies of an ancient text, entitled "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of the Shadows."

According to legend, the text, written in 1666, was co-authored by Lucifer himself. If used properly, one can summon the Prince of Darkness and gain immortality. Balkan already owns a copy of the book, but apparently the Prince hasn't been answering his calls. Since two other copies survive, he wants Corso to find them and compare all three for authenticity.

Corso travels to Europe and meets the other two owners of the text, one of whom cautions him to turn back from his search. Along the way, Corso is trailed by a blond-haired woman, played by Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's real life wife), whom he assumes works for Balkan. Her real purpose and identity remain unknown throughout the movie – she might be a demon, Lucifer or even a figment of Corso's own imagination.

When Corso discovers the engravings in each of the books have various discrepancies, he uncovers the true secret to "The Nine Gates" and supposedly learns how to summon Lucifer and claim immortality.

Although they look similar, The Ninth Gate is nothing like the other apocalyptic let down End of Days. Fortunately, Polanksi makes minimal use of special effects throughout the film, choosing instead to rely on the "less is more" principle.

At one point, during a fight-scene, Seigner flies through the air and kicks a villain with lightning speed. Near the end, Balkan is immersed in flames. Neither of these examples use gratuitous effects, but are rather integral elements of the story.

Satan's presence in the movie is only implied by a well-conceived plot. Don't expect a thrill-ride of fireworks – expect a satisfying narrative journey to a thought-provoking climax, which happens to use demonic worship as a backdrop. Expect a good film, but be forewarned, many will have a problem with its open-ended conclusion.

To avoid disappointment, consider the message in the lack of resolution. From the start, be sensitive to Corso's lack of will power, his greed, his shamelessness and inattention to the bridges that he's burning. Consider that he is not actively seeking redemption, but is passively allowing his own damnation.

Despite Polanski's Hitchcock-esque direction, Depp's character exists in stark contrast to the more sympathetic protagonists in films such as North By Northwest.

Pay attention to little details like the "PLEASE DO NOT SLAM DOOR" stickers on the taxi cabs and you will have a better understanding of the movie's message.

In the end, the question of whether or not Corso succeeds in summoning the devil is not the point – the point is that he tries.

If you find yourself wondering what happened afterward, you're succumbing to Corso's own fatal curiousity.

In short, The Ninth Gate works because it effectively acts as a gate into the viewer's own tempted soul. Its final fade to white is a reminder of how easy it is, after walking through eight seemingly harmless doors of temptation, to find that the ninth one will be the door which seals your doom.

Bear in mind, if the end of the movie seems a bit abrupt, like a door swiftly slamming shut on your precious little fingers – it should.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000